Burnout has become more prevalent in our lives than ever before. The expectations keep growing year after year. Expectations of excelling in our careers, growing our families, and growing personally.If the pressure of meeting these expectations were not enough, the pandemic added another dimension to these expectations. After facing a pandemic and having to adapt our whole lives to make a living, we are more susceptible to burnout.
The signs of burnout often sneak up on us when we least expect it. Certain signs are seen as normal when facing daily stress and others make a subtle appearance the more we experience burnout. Burnout is when constant and prolonged stress causes us to be mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.
Have you been feeling overwhelmed, drained, and struggling to keep up with life’s demands? The following signs can help you identify whether you are facing burnout. These signs are not a diagnosis but should encourage you to seek professional help to overcome burnout. The signs are not in order of importance.
Facing emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion could be a sign that you are facing burnout. Exhaustion in all three dimensions is quite common when facing burnout. It leads to low energy, no motivation, fatigue, and helplessness. You try to be positive and motivated, but you often must force yourself to work or give attention to things you used to enjoy. You might even feel like you have nothing left to give.
Struggling to sleep
Sleeping between six and eight hours a night might be a priority for you, but when you are facing burnout, you may struggle to get a good night’s sleep. When you prioritize getting to bed early, your mind still struggles to shut off. You keep thinking about work and your circumstances.
Hours can pass by without you even noticing. When waking up the next morning, it feels like you hardly slept. Being a light sleeper could also be a sign of burnout. Waking up throughout the night by sounds and bodily functions like having to go to the bathroom could be your body warning you of stress. Lack of sleep affects our energy, memory, creativity, decision-making, and mood.
Change in eating habits
The body has hormones that secrete to the organs all day. The hormones secreted inform organs how and when to respond to what the body is experiencing.
A simple example of this is when blood glucose becomes low, the body secretes a hormone that indicates to the brain we need to eat. Unless we eat, we cannot balance our blood glucose.
Once we have eaten, our body secretes another hormone to tell the brain that we have eaten enough. Prolonged stress can cause the body not to secrete the necessary hormones. This leads to the body no longer being able to effectively indicate when we need to eat and how much to eat to survive. Without these hormones, we continue to eat and overeat as our body does not inform us that we have eaten enough.
It can also go the other way where our body does not inform us that we need to eat. The lack of eating triggers the fight-or-flight response in our body to survive without food. This response causes the body to be on high alert for a while, but with a low crash later. Overeating or lack of eating is dangerous to the overall health of the body.
Feelings of lack
Lack of creativity, effectiveness, commitment, progression, self-confidence, concentration, and positivity are common feelings of lack one experiences during burnout. These feelings hardly come from being insecure. The feelings resonate from the body experiencing a lack of balance internally.
The imbalance in our bodies affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally. Your mood is in a constant slump, and you struggle to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. This leads to reactions that are cynical and pessimistic.
Do you feel like everything and everyone gets under your skin? Are you frustrated with your work, personal life, and emotions? Every situation makes you feel as if the world is criticizing you. You may feel as if you could explode at any moment.
Most often this irritability and frustration are rooted in the feeling of lack discussed above. We are frustrated that we cannot seem to stay motivated and reach our goals. Irritability is likely to be combined with other signs like interrupted sleep, poor eating habits, and muscle aches.
Being anxious creates an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, trembling, shaking, nausea, and dizziness. Anxiety is when we focus on the future to the extent that we question the unknown. The “what ifs” build up in every thought.
The future makes you anxious. Not knowing what to expect makes you anxious. You reflect on where you are right now and become anxious that your current state of mind will be your future. Anxiety can often lead to thoughts of quitting and sometimes even depression.
Experiencing body aches, cramps and headaches are all signs of burnout. Prolonged stress increases cortisol in our bodies. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. It increases the glucose in the bloodstream to allow the body to deal with the effect of stress on the bodily systems.
Our muscles are one of the bodily systems cortisol provides a warning to. Cortisol indicates to the muscles that they must tighten and respond to a stressful situation. The prolonged increase in cortisol leads to constant muscle aches and tension.
The muscle tension in the body and the neck area is the main cause of headaches during stressful times. Living with constant headaches can become unbearable at times. It can lead to light sensitivity, hearing sensitivity, dizziness, nausea, and irritability.
The stress hormone cortisol also slows down bodily functions that are non-essential during a stressful situation. A prolonged increase in cortisol leads to the bodily systems like the digestive tract and immune system not functioning optimally as it is non-essential during a stressful response. Stomach cramps, abdominal bloating, and sharp pain below the breastbone are often indicators of the digestive tract being under stress.
Increased sick days
When under stress, the body’s immune system is under severe pressure. The body recognizes the unusual responses to stress as an attack on the body. The immune system fights against it until it can no longer fight against the effect prolonged stress has on the body. The immune system becomes compromised and leads to infections and inflammatory responses in our body. Feeling like you just cannot shake off a cold or cough might be a sign of burnout.
Alcohol, drugs, and even food provide comfort during burnout. The hope is that these substances will numb the feeling of stress in the body. The numbing of the stress creates a false sense of being able to cope. Once the alcohol or drugs wear off, the effects of stress on the body are back and often worse than before. The unfortunate outcome can be an addiction to alcohol, drugs, and bad eating habits.
The signs of burnout above could help you prevent further burnout when used to your advantage. Burnout has become a heavy word that we all fear having in our lives. But it does not have to define us. It does not have to define where we are currently in our lives or where we are going to be. By becoming knowledgeable about burnout, we can effectively work against the effects it might have on us right now and in the future.
For guidance to deal with and prevent burnout, contact our office to schedule a counseling appointment.
“Overworked”, Courtesy of Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Matches”, Courtesy of Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Exhausted”, Courtesy of Mizuno K, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Man with a Beer”, Courtesy of Nicola Barts, Pexels.com, CC0 License